Category Archives: Bullying

“What We Attach Ourselves to When We are Most Afraid”

Emma typed that she wanted to write – “How about a story about what we attach ourselves to when we are most afraid.” 

“In no particular place that anyone has ever heard of, there lived a girl who was friendly and loved to laugh.  She had a body like any other girl her age, but it moved in ways that were unusual.  This caused people to stare and even made some think that she wanted their mean looks and comments.

“Do you know anyone who likes to be the focus of such hurtful and nasty attention?

“No.  I do not think anyone enjoys being made fun of.

“The fun is a question I do not have an answer to.  Laughter is pure when it hurts no one.”

By Emma Zurcher-Long

August, 2014

August, 2014

The Result of Trauma

Recently someone commented on this blog, misconstruing a comment made by someone else, attacked that person, made accusations and as I was trying to remember how to block the person from making further inflammatory comments, they managed to write four more focussed entirely on me.   Each comment was more accusatory and hate filled than the next, and though they didn’t get through moderation, I saw them before deleting and successfully blocking the person and their various aliases.  And yet it made me sad to have to block them.

After years of blogging I have learned there is no use responding to such comments, because when someone has made the decision that you are hateful, and untrustworthy, really anything said will be taken as yet another example of what they’ve decided is true and reinforcing whatever it is this person believes.  Ironically, this is what happens to anyone who has been objectified, not treated as an equal or even a human being with respect and dignity, but rather has come to represent something larger than any single person can possibly be.

I have also learned that it is better to remove the offending comments than to allow them, as they do not lead to useful, productive discussion, but instead end up creating a mosh pit of anger and resentment, which can be far-reaching, upsetting and triggering to a great many, as opposed to just the one or two the original comments were directed to.

When a person has been traumatized repeatedly throughout their childhood, made to feel inadequate, told they are inferior, treated cruelly, belittled and teased mercilessly, they grow up believing, at least a little, that they deserved such abuse.  It also is common for that person to then become hyper vigilant of the same sort of cruelty being played out throughout their life with other people. It is a means of survival, as well as a way to protect themselves from more trauma.

For children especially, who’ve experienced on-going trauma, the tendency can be to see this same kind of abusive behavior that they grew up with, in others now that they are older.  Sometimes they may be correct and people really are being abusive, but other times their reaction will be incorrect.  People who wish them no harm, people who even care about them, will be viewed as abusive too, in keeping with all those people who hurt them in the past.  The original trauma will be replayed over and over leading to an unending cycle of trauma, reaction and trauma.

I’m not saying anything new here, you can read about PTSD, trauma and the result of systematic abuse over long periods of time by doing a little research yourself…

The point is, when we as a society, condemn a population of people, whether that is because of skin color, gender, neurology, sexual preference or anything else, we are doing long-term damage.  Damage that will result in an increase in addiction, depression, suicidal ideation, nightmares, anxiety, irritability, anger, difficulties forming close bonds with others and general feelings of isolation are a few of the symptoms documented.

Abuse is like that.  It has long tentacles, reaching out over decades and even entire lives, causing those who have been victimized to respond to others who wish them no harm, as though they were.

There is no easy answer, but if there is a single word that can be used, which will certainly not do more harm, it is love.  I know it sounds trite, too simple and clichéd, but  I believe it is the only answer.  As Emma wrote recently after reading a New York Times article about the ongoing fight for control of a vital highway in Afghanistan, “War is useless for making peace.”  Love has always been the answer.  Even if others cannot hear it, cannot believe it, cannot feel it, those of us who can, must be even more determined and vigilant.  Love.  Embracing those who are in pain, embracing those who are hurting, even and especially when they strike out.  And while we do that, we must protect ourselves and those who need our protection from any who are intent on hurting us with strong boundaries and the help and protection of others.  It’s a tricky balancing act and definitely something I am working on, but I am confident it can be done.



Lots of Questions and The Journey Continues

I haven’t been sleeping well.  I’m having nightmares.  I’m waking at 2:00 and 3:00 AM, unable to go back to sleep.  I am worrying.  I feel I shouldn’t be.  But I am.  The lack of sleep doesn’t help my worrying, it exacerbates it.  There are a couple of things going on that are causing this.  I am not managing the work/writing balance.  I need to work.  I don’t have a choice.  I also like what I do. So there’s that.  And I need to figure out how to balance work better.

Then there’s this…  my writing, this blog and autism.  Specifically my growing discomfort in writing about Emma, without Emma.  More and more I try to keep my writing about my own issues and how they weigh on my responses and reactions, but even so, I end up writing about her.  I asked Emma the other day, “Hey Em.  Does it bother you that I write about you?”  “Nyeah,” she said, which is her way of saying No.  It sounds like knee-yeah when she says it and she scrunches her face up and smiles while shaking her head from side to side.  “Okay, but do you know that lots and lots of people read the blog every day?  Not just family or people we know,” I continued.  She looked at me, nodded her head up and down and grinned.  “Do you care that I put photos of you on it?”  “Nyeah,” she said again.

I asked Nic what his feelings were.  Without hesitation he said he wasn’t comfortable being written about or having his photo on the blog or Facebook or anywhere else.  So Em tells me she doesn’t care or mind, but Nic certainly does and I can’t get rid of my anxiety.  I didn’t do what so many bloggers have done.  I never made my family anonymous while keeping our whereabouts a mystery.  It never occurred to me to do that.  I started this blog as a way of documenting Emma’s progress.  That original concept has changed over the years.  I don’t know how to keep writing about “our journey” without “all of us” writing it.  Nic has no interest and whenever I have asked Emma if she’d like to write something, she’s declined.  The truth is the blog has become “my journey”.  I have moved away from feeling sad about my family and am now in a place of contentment.  I feel tremendously lucky.  I feel incredibly grateful for my two children and my husband and the life we have together.  I no longer delineate one child from the other.  I don’t see one as one thing and the other as something else.

We often talk about our children as though they grow up in a vacuum.  We express shock when children bully each other and make schools accountable and yet our children are being raised in a culture where adults bully all the time.  We are a culture of bullies.  Of course bullying is a problem in schools, how could it not be?  Look at the adults they see, hear and watch on TV and in the movies.  They are surrounded by bullies, even bullied by those adults and yet we are horrified and shake our heads and wonder how this could happen?  How could it NOT happen?  Parents have strong opinions about race, sexuality and difference and their children often adopt similar beliefs.  We want tolerance?  We must begin with ourselves.  We want to stop bullying?  We must look to our own behaviors first.

So I ask myself:  Am I contributing to a culture that thrives on putting others down?  Do I do and/or say things to make people feel badly about themselves?  Do I gossip?  Am I judgmental?  Do I engage in disrespectful conversations about those I do not agree with?  Am I more interested in making my point than hearing another’s?  What sort of person do I model for my children?  I believe in tolerance, embracing difference, being of service, acceptance, but do my actions mimic my beliefs?  Do I believe that what I believe is the “truth”?  Do I consider those who disagree as inferior?  I know I am guilty of all these things at least on occasion and a few more than occasionally.

I have an ideal for myself, it is a kind of end goal, the person I strive to be, but know I will never achieve.  As long as I keep traveling toward my ideal I will have lived a good life, or, at the very least, a better life than if I don’t.  I know I won’t do any of this perfectly, but I can keep trying.  I can keep holding myself accountable.  When I make mistakes I can admit them, make amends and do all that I can to try and make the necessary changes so I won’t repeat myself.  I don’t know what the answer is to my questions and discomfort.  But I’ll keep looking, asking and being aware of how I feel.  Once I’ve figured it out, who knows? But until then I’ll keep writing about it.  After all, this blog is less Emma’s Hope Book and more “A Journey.”

New York City – Built as a Courthouse in 1874-1877, later used as a Public Library this clock tower remains standing 

Parental Bullying and Autism

I have kept the specific blog, post and commenter who I refer to in this piece anonymous because my point is not about any particular person, but about a larger issue.  But first, a little background…   I was alerted to some negative comments left on a friend’s blog.  She had written a post about learning to accept her Autistic child.  It was a beautifully written, honest and loving post detailing what things had helped her find her way to acceptance and how that journey had changed her and her relationship to her child.  The path she describes was similar to my own, except mine took much longer and was more circuitous, but I could completely relate to her process.  It was my journey, only on speed.

I went to the blog to read the comments and read this:  “”You accepted autism, I fought it.”  I stopped breathing.  I felt as though someone had taken a 2 X 4 and rammed me in the solar plexus.  I became aware of the fluttering in my stomach with the simultaneous sensation of dizziness in my head, starting just behind my eyes and then a prickly feeling at the back of my skull.  I could feel my heart pounding.  I swallowed.  I read on.  The words are no longer important.  She  related how she had “recovered” her child as though it were scientific fact and then said that her thinking would one day be common knowledge and any other view would be considered “archaic.”

I had to stop reading.  I stood up.  I left the room, walked around, drank some water and came back.  I could feel tears welling up.  I swallowed again.  I was aware that my hands trembled as I read “Seems to me a thinking person would keep an open mind and once you accept autism…there is no more thinking that occurs…just the acceptance.”  I couldn’t work out what that meant as there was no logic that I could get a firm handle on, but the feeling those words evoked was one of failure and shame.  I had to make a conscious effort to take a deep breath.  I felt the sting of her words, like a knife cutting me open.  I sat there and read the other comments and another from her, reiterating her stance, her position.  Her story, no longer a personal tale, but one given forth as though evidence in a court of law.  And her love shining through it all, triumphant, jeering, condemning.  Her actions and the outcome of her actions worn like a medal of honor, the purple heart of parenting, pinned to her chest, evidence of her supremacy.

I could no longer hold back my tears.  My tears, physical expressions of my inadequacies.  As I cried, as the tears ran down my cheeks, dripping off my chin on to my shirt, I closed my eyes and felt all those feelings of pain, of sadness, of shame that had nothing to do with autism, but are feelings I carry around, despite how hard I try to get beyond them, feelings I have had my entire adult life, long before I became a mother.  Those feelings of not being good enough, not being worthy, not being pulled together, not having all the answers.  Those feelings of being “less than” all of them came bubbling to the surface.  Those biting words from that commenter cut through the fragile dam I so carefully constructed for myself.

“You accepted… I fought…”

I am better than you.  My love is stronger, better… I love my child more than you do.

This is bullying.  Words used to personally attack or intimidate another person.  It makes us think we are not as good as someone else.  For me, her words took me back to all those years when I believed all those parents who spoke with assurance, with superiority, without doubt about something that could not be proven or even replicated, stories that are not based in any science, but are “one offs”.  All those false hopes I had and mistook for the real thing.  False promises that lead me down a path of tremendous pain, ultimately harming my daughter far more than helping her.  The biggest strides I’ve made that have positively impacted my daughter are when I was able to completely accept every aspect of Emma and put down the whip beating me to change her neurology.   This is not to say we do not do everything in our power to help her learn, teach her to care for herself and try to give her tools she can use to flourish.

Richard said to me the other day, “Parents are spending all this time and energy trying to teach their kids to be normal, when they should be teaching their kids how to be themselves.”

My husband is brilliant.

Emma – September, 2012